WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Davy Jones, an actor-turned-singer who helped propel the TV rock band The Monkees to the top of the pop charts and into rock ’n’ roll history, died Wednesday in Florida. He was 66.
Jones, lead singer of the 1960s group that was assembled as an American version of the Beatles, died of a massive heart attack in Indiantown where he lived, his publicist Helen Kensick confirmed.
A former racehorse jockey, Jones turned to acting and then became lead singer when he joined The Monkees in 1965 and the band embarked on a wildly popular U.S. television show. Jones sang lead vocals on songs such as I Wanna Be Free and Daydream Believer.
The band was assembled as with its personnel designed to be the instant stars of an American TV series seeking to evoke the Beatles, then already famous for their music and such films as A Hard Day’s Night and Help!
Auditions for The Monkees were held in the fall of 1965, attracting some 500 applicants. Jones — who was born Dec. 30, 1945, in Manchester, England — had stylishly long hair and a British accent that helped with his selection. He would go on to achieve heartthrob status in the United States.
Nonetheless, musical ability wasn’t paramount in the casting decisions. While Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork had some musical experience, Mickey Dolenz had been a child actor, as had Jones along with being a jockey in his native England.
In August 1966, the Beatles performed in San Francisco, playing their last live set for a paying audience. The same month, the Monkees released their first album, introducing the world to the group that would star in the NBC series when it premiered in September 1966.
The first single, Last Train to Clarksville, became a No. 1 hit. And the show caught on with audiences, featuring fast-paced, helter-skelter comedy inspired as much by the Marx Brothers as the Beatles.
It was a shrewd case of cross-platform promotion. As David Bianculli noted in his Dictionary of Teleliteracy, “The show’s self-contained music videos, clear forerunners of MTV, propelled the group’s first seven singles to enviable positions of the pop charts: three number ones, two number twos, two number threes.“
And though initially the Monkees weren’t allowed to play their own instruments, they were supported by enviable talent: Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday, and Neil Diamond penned I’m a Believer.
Musicians who played on their records included Billy Preston (who only later played with the Beatles), Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Ry Cooder and Neil Young.
After two seasons, the TV series had flared out and was cancelled in the summer of 1968. But the Monkeys remained a nostalgia act for decades, firmly ensconsced in the American musical imagination.
According to The Monkees website — Monkees.com — Jones left the band in late 1970. In the summer of 1971, he recorded a solo hit Rainy Jane and made a series of appearances on American variety and television shows, including Love American Style and The Brady Bunch.
Jones played himself in a widely popular Brady Bunch episode, which aired in late 1971. In the episode, Marcia Brady, president of her school’s Davy Jones fan club, promised she could get him to sing at a school dance.
Amid lingering nostalage for the Monkees, Jones teamed up in the mid-1980s with former Monkee Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and promoter David Fishof for a reunion tour. Their popularity prompted MTV to re-air The Monkees series, introducing the group to a new audience.
In 1987, Jones, Tork and Micky Dolenz recorded a new album, Pool It. Two years later, the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In the late 1990s, the group filmed a special called Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees.Jones is survived by his wife, Jessica.